Monday, July 12, 2010

No Presence in the Future

From every dingy basement on every dingy street
Every dragging handclap over every dragging beat;
That's just the beat of time, the beat that must go on -
If you've been trying for years, we already heard your song.

- Joe Strummer, The Clash, "Death or Glory"

The biggest illusion humans have about pop culture is the same illusion we have about time - we're under the mistaken impression that it's important, that it's all building up to something, that it's leading somewhere to a cinematic conclusion. 'Cept it ain't.

I find that a lot of the people I grew up with are still stuck listening to the same music they listened to in high school. Me, I managed to make repeated culture-jumps over the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s to keep up with what's hip on the cutting edge in music. And that's an admirable pursuit - for awhile, anyway. After all, such an insignificant act as being able to name-drop the latest album by Slappy and the Sloptones dupes your peers into thinking you're really smart and on top of things, and it can even get you laid.

But there comes a time when every man reaches the point where he's had enough. There comes a time when you cross a line where you're wise to all the patterns this hick planet has to offer. Like old age itself, you're never really sure just when it came over you, but once you're reached that far shore and looked back, you realize it's so.

Far from being the sad state of old-fartitude that our younger selves once believed this eventuality would be, however, there is a transcendent bliss and genuine empowering vibe of youth in freeing oneself from giving a fuck about modern pop culture. As Anton LaVey so wisely determined: "Contrary to the accepted premise of staying young by keeping up on things, newness is a devastating, death-dealing state. The only way you can get old is by exposure to the new."

At the grocery checkout lanes, I look at the celebrity gossip magazines and find that their headlines all scream non-sequiturs at me: "What Kate says about Derf's new tattoo", "Is Frappy cheating on Frank?", "Will Jilly Divorce Biffy?"... And it's with a heart positively beaming with pride that I tell you I don't have a clue who they're talking about.

Last year, I saw some hubbub on the TV news about Kanye West upstaging Taylor Swift at some awards show. When I told friends and acquaintances that, in all seriousness, I didn't know who Kanye West and Taylor Swift were, no one believed me. They couldn't conceive that someone could really be that "out of it" as to not know all about these Very Important Cultural Icons. Even now, I couldn't begin to tell you what songs either of them are known for, or what they sound like at all.

Right now, the headlines scream about Lindsay Lohan going to jail, and here's where your own incredulity bubble will probably collapse: in all honesty, I do not really know who Lindsay Lohan is or what she is famous for. Is she a singer? Is she an actress? I would probably find something to jog my memory if I googled her and checked Wikipedia, but why should I? What does it get me, what does it net me? Like the fella said, how terrible is wisdom when it brings no profit to the wise?

Lady Gaga is in the news a lot these days, and I am peripherally aware of her existence - but only because a friend of mine seems to be a big fan and keeps mentioning her exploits to me. That, and the fact that she posed nearly naked on the cover of the current Rolling Stone, which did manage to make a mark on my closed-door Creeps-time cultural consciousness.

Ditto Justin Bieber. Who the heck is he? Don't tell me, I don't want to know. Everyone on the internet talks about him, but no one's doing anything about him (as I feel sure Mark Twain would have said).

As for television and film, I've always been gloriously out of touch. I never watched an episode of Seinfeld when it was actually on the air (but now I own the entire series on DVD). I have never sat through an entire Harry Potter film and only know the characters and stories by osmosis, because everyone on Earth talks about them incessantly. The vast majority of TV shows out there remain a total unknown to me - I stroll through the DVD aisle at Sam's Club and mutter to myself, "How on Earth can there be a sixth-season box set of Scutch, the Truck Driving Otter and a third-season box set of True Plasma Center Stories when I've never even heard of these damn shows?"

None of this means that I'm never privy to the new shit. Occasional fragments of semi-recent modern pop do enter my awareness, for reasons even I don't understand myself. Even a hater such a myself loved Puddle of Mudd's "Psycho", Nickelback's "Rockstar", and I wholeheartedly endorse the entire oeuvres of latter-day bands like Coldplay, Alter Bridge, Smashmouth and Muse, without even really knowing why. Music, and why it does what it does, can still be a mystery even to a meta-jaded oldster whose memory bank is full.

Me, I'm more interested in the swingin' tunes they're rockin' on the Planet Pulcova, where the beer in the canteloupe lay. That's where the real future of rock and roll lies. When you're weary of the same old song that Earth's singin', join me, won't you?

- - JSH


Melissa said...

Very interesting commentary. I've been ruminating on many of these issues myself, of late. For instance, hegemonic America's seemingly incessant appetite for television content which peers into the bedroom/mating/dating behavior of others. What happened to the privacy & privacy rights we once so dearly cherished? Perhaps we have ignored them and they are going away. I still hold out hope for a return of their popularity.

As Joseph Campbell espoused, you can tell a lot about a culture from its stories. Fortunately, we do have some grand, epic tales in the cultural media (in film, the mythic and super-human abound right now)--but the above-mentioned who's-cheating-on-whos are ersatz chapter plays without even a deus ex machina to culminate the sordid cliff-hanging.

I do feel confident that talent never goes out of style--and thank goodness our species still produces many genius-creative artists, composers, and musicians. Indeed, it is a brave, new world for females with those propensities. That possibility has been limited at best, for quite some time, until relatively recently in the annals of humanity.

brine said...

Amen, Sam.

JSH said...

As Timothy Ferris said in an inscription he personally sneaked onto NASA's Voyager Golden Record launched into deep space: "To the makers of music — all worlds, all times". With that scope in mind, whoever's top of the pops on this backwater planet this week becomes so trivial as to require an expanded definition of the word.

Anonymous said...

It's strange that you mention Muse. I've never really listened to their music, but they were supposed to be a large influence on Stephanie Meyer when she was writing the Twilight series which you say you don't any interest in in your "Literary Werewolves" entry on your "Revelation Awaits an Appointed Time" blog.

'Course the only reason I've seen the Twilight movies (I haven't read any of the books, but I like some of the art I've seen in the graphic novel) is for the hot chicks and the fact that one of them is struck on a guy named after me.